Is the Thompson High football team’s biggest game of the season on Friday night when the Warriors visit unbeaten Mountain Brook for a Class 7A Region 3 showdown?
Considering what the Spartans have done thus far, including an impressive win last week against Hewitt-Trussville, the easy answer is yes. However, dig a little deeper into the best region in the state and it may just simply be life in Class 7A Region 3.
“In our region, you don’t have three or four Friday nights where you can (rest),” Thompson head coach Mark Freeman said. “I don’t care who you’re playing in our region, there is not an off night. I’ve seen other places where you have three or four tough region games but there were times when you could really approach it in a way that you can rest.”
With that said, the only team in the region who completely controls its own destiny is Mountain Brook (7-0 overall, 5-0 Region 3). While it’s a stringent challenge, if Mountain Brook wins the next two games, against Thompson and Hoover, then the Spartans will be crowned region champs.
“They come in with a lot of confidence,” said Freeman, whose team is 6-1 overall and 4-1 in region play. “You run the table in this region, like we did last year, and it builds confidence. They’re ranked No. 2 in the state. We are a decided underdog.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Freeman and his team don’t have a plan to become part of what could be a crowded field on top of the region standings.
One of the most critical parts of the plan is finding a way to keep Mountain Brook from putting together time-consuming drives.
“If we can get off the field on defense, we’ll be OK,” Freeman said.
Put that in the easier said than done category. Hewitt-Trussville, which, like Thompson, employs an explosive offense, probably said a similar thing. But the Spartans limited their possession with an offense that can grind things out but also has some explosive playmakers. Running back A.J. Gates, who will be playing on Saturdays next season, is not big but is quick and hard to corral. Quarterback Strother Gibbs can beat you with his arm or legs, he had 83 of Mountain Brook’s 301 rushing yards against Hewitt-Trussville, and receiver Hamp Greene is dangerous.
“They are well coached and don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Freeman said.
Keep that offense on the sideline, however, and it gives Thompson quarterback Taulia Tagovailo and the Warrior offense more chances to shine. Tagovailoa has thrown for more than 2,600 yards with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions with wide receiver Michael Pettway catching 13 of those touchdown passes.
The Warriors will be going against a Mountain Brook defense that allowed just 59 points in the first seven games and has shut out three teams. Finding a way to penetrate that defense won’t be easy, particularly in the Spartan’s home stadium in front of what should be a packed house.
“I love it,” Freeman said of taking his team on the road. “I think it can be a good thing for you. We tell our players, when we are on the road, to take the initiative to take the crowd out of the game and beat them on their home field.”